Over Feeling SAD?
The Best Foods and Lifestyle Changes for Seasonal Depression
“Every winter has its spring.” — H. Tuttle
We’re in the thick of winter, at this point. For those living in places other than sunny Southern California, it’s likely you’ve entered the shadow point of the year. The days are getting shorter, the sun is hiding behind a thick curtain of gray for weeks at a time, and the weather isn’t exactly inviting. As such, our collective mental health tends to take a bit of a dip. Aside from the very real effects of less Vitamin D and more time spent indoors is the added stress of the holiday season and end-of-year fatigue. If you google Seasonal Affective Disorder, you’re likely to find a wealth of articles talking about the winter blues. Let’s first start off with really understanding what we’re talking about.
What is SAD?
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a type of depression characterized by recurrent symptoms of major depression that last 4 to 5 months out of the year. Some of these symptoms include feeling depressed most of the day for nearly every day of the week, losing interest in activities you used to love, experiencing changes in appetite or weight, sleep troubles, having low energy, difficulty concentrating, and even feeling hopeless.
First, if you’re experiencing any or all of these signs, consult a licensed mental health provider. The internet is a wonderful space to expand your self-care journey, but is not a replacement for therapy nor is this medical advice. It can be difficult to engage in nurturing acts for yourself when you’re dealing with depression, so getting some support from a licensed professional can help lessen the load and get you feeling more like you. As a gentle reminder, I created a primer on how to find a therapist here.
Researchers haven’t found the exact cause of SAD, but have had promising developments indicating that the decreased level of sun exposure leads to lowered amounts of serotonin, the necessary feel-good chemical in our brains. There’s a few changes that can be made, by way of our plates and our approach to wellness. Read on!
Fill Your Plate to Combat SAD
First, let’s be clear: There isn’t one supplement or food that will cure SAD. Rather, a holistic approach to your plate is what will help. A recent study focused on dietary shifts for adults coping with Major Depression, also called the ‘SMILES’ trial, found that the Mediterranean diet can help aid in decreasing depressive symptoms. The effects of the Mediterranean diet on mental health has been applauded before, so it is worth looking into.
The Mediterranean diet consists of whole grains, vegetables, fish, and olive oil plus up to two glasses of wine per day. However, processed meats and sugars are limited to three times a week. This is a primarily plant-based diet that relies on fresh, whole foods with little sugar. A big key aspect of this diet is vegetables. Leafy greens like kale, collard greens, and spinach are full of micronutrients like folate and Vitamin C, which are known to help prevent depression. Despite these developments, it has been found that thus far, diet alone isn’t enough to treat SAD. Fret not, read on for some lifestyle changes you can implement that can hack your brain out of SAD and into glad during these dark winter times.
Make Your Lifestyle Winter-Friendly
Light therapy is a common support for SAD that just makes sense — the lack of light has us down, so a healthy dose of light could raise our spirits, right? Yes, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Light therapy can provide relief but is most effective when doubled down with psychotherapy, diet changes, and even antidepressants if necessary. Before digging into the ins and outs of light therapy, please note that if you’re diagnosed with bipolar disorder, you should consult your doctor first. Increasing exposure or using light therapy for too long can induce mania, which definitely isn’t what we’re trying to do here.
When searching for the lightbox, you’re going to want a device that provides up to 10,000 lux of light and emits as little UV light as possible. It should be used within the first hour of waking up in the morning for up to 30 minutes. Don’t look directly in the light and keep the light about 2 feet away from your face. The Leo from Circadian Optics Light Therapy is an aesthetically-pleasing lamp that meets the above specs at an affordable price.
Move to Up Your Serotonin
One final thing you can do for your wellness this winter? Stay physically active. It isn’t lost on me that symptoms of SAD coincide with a time of the year when we’re confined to the great indoors and are missing out on some physical activity. Regular exercise stimulates the release of serotonin, that chemical we’re chasing all winter long. Head on over to our Strengthen pillar for some inspo and tips to get you started!
photo credit @nataliekarpushenko